Thursday 25 August 2011

37 Harley Street W1

Frederick Emil Eberhard Schenck was, as you might expect from the name, a native of Edinburgh (his father was an artist who had emigrated from Germany).
He began his career in the plastic arts as a modeler for various potteries in Stoke on Trent but his particular specialism, a technique called pate-sur-pate, fell out of favour because of its very high costs. So he left Stoke for London and set up as an architectural sculptor.
In 1899 he was commissioned by the architect Beresford Pite to carve the decoration on a particularly ornate office block on Harley Street.
The corner site is emphasised by an oriel window with an implied cupola on top, with an aspiring female wearing a cowl and holding her arm aloft amid what seem to be palm leaves.
It is difficult to discern a theme in the various low relief panels on the facade. Often, the original occupier gives a clue but I haven't been able to discover who that was.
On the upper storey of the corner bay window, Schenk has placed a pair of female figures of Spring and Autumn on either side of the Angel of Judgement with her scales and sword.
The lower storey has a female spreading out a scroll, flanked by children carrying a posy and a torch. She could be a personification of Fame.
To her left is a man wearing a laurel wreath sitting in front of a line of volumes marked Homer and Milton, who must be Poetry. To Fame's right is a rather ambivalent figure clasping his brow in one hand and a slim volume in the other. Could this be a poet that Fame has overlooked - a mute inglorious Milton, possibly?

The bay window on the Queen Anne Street facade is decorated with the figures of Day and Night. 
Day is a woman reclining in a Roman-style columned attic, catching a few rays. She holds something in her right hand - a notebook? an abacus? 
Night is an astronomer with a telescope and a celestial globe. The sky is studded with stars that look like paper stars cut out by a child and pasted to the window. He supports his elbow on a pile of books, presumably star atlases.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Corinthia Hotel, Northumberland Avenue WC2

The Corinthia Hotel was built as the super-de-luxe Hotel Metropole in 1883 to designs by Francis and JE Saunders. It was patronised by the Prince of Wales who used to entertain in the royal suite, believed to be behind the bay window above the main entrance.
After decades as government offices, the building finally reverted to its original use earlier this year, after a bit of a hiccup when it was found the hotel company's largest shareholder is...the Libyan government, whose assets are frozen.
The restoration of the building included the cleaning of these two lovely figures in the spandrels of the arch over the former front door (the main entrance is now round the corner). They are by Henry Hugh Armstead, a sculptor who began his career as a silversmith.
Both figures represent London. On the left is the City, a queen in classical garb holding a winged staff in her right hand. She used to hold a torch in her left but it seems to have disappeared. Behind her loom Big Ben and the dome of St Paul's.
On the right is Old Father Thames brandishing a trident and holding his urn, from which the river perpetually springs. A swan swims at his feet. Behind him can be glimpsed the White Tower and a ship.
The underside of Bertie's bay window is decorated with a lively frieze of water babies playing with hippocampi.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Old War Office, Whitehall SW1

Alfred Drury's final group for the old War House consists of the Sorrow of Peace and the Winged Messenger of Peace.
I have to say the symbolism eludes me. Is Drury saying that peace with poverty and injustice is as bad as war? What message is the little winged chap bringing, exactly?
The magazine The Studio was admiring but vague in a 1906 article:
"He has avoided the theatrical taint with memorable discretion, and yet he has found in the subjects suggested by the purpose to which the building he has adorned will be applied ample inspiration for sculpture which embodies the vital points in the drama of Peace and War. Each of the figures and each of the groups signifies something that is nobly imagined and finely thought out; each is an independent and original conception; and yet each one takes its proper place in the story which the whole series sets forth, and takes it as rightly as the work itself agrees with the architectural design."
Lots more from this article at VictorianWeb.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Old War Office, Whitehall SW1

Victory and Fame are much more the type of subject one might expect to find on a military building, but once again Alfred Drury treats them in a curiously downbeat fashion. Victory holds a tiny figure of the goddess Nike and a laurel wreath, but she is pensive rather than exultant. Fame inscribes names on her scroll with a pen.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Old War Office, Whitehall SW1

Truth, proverbially the first casualty of war, sits on the War House with her mirror in one hand and a closed, unalterable book in the other, together with the fragrant flowers that are the fruits of truth.
Justice does not hold her usual attributes of sword and scales and is (correctly) not blindfold: she holds the book of judgement with a tree emblazoned on the cover. Note Alfred Drury's signature.